WHEN it comes to showing the diversity of Malaysia, just look to Datuk Mohammad Nor Mohammad Khalid, or more fondly known as Lat, our country’s favourite cartoonist.
The cartoonist recently unveiled three drawings, each featuring one of Malaysia’s main festivals – Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali and Chinese New Year – at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur as part of a collaboration with Faber-Castell Malaysia.
“I have been doing this for a long time, I have been drawing cartoons since the 1970s. When I drew, I drew everybody,” said Lat, recalling the days when he had to fill six columns in the New Straits Times broadsheet.
He was given the freedom to draw anything he liked. But he also had to keep his drawings newsworthy to attract readers.
“Everybody read newspapers, the old and the young. Those were the glory days of the newspapers. I never ran out of ideas.”
He recalled how in 1974, he was paying for his capati meal at a shop in Jalan Melayu, KL, and happened to notice the wedding photo of the man behind the counter. He decided to do a story about a Sikh wedding, and asked the man to help him.
At that time Lat was not a household name yet, and it was hard to convince the man to help him.
He was also aware that if he wrote an article about a wedding not many people would read it. He knew then that he needed to draw a cartoon series.
The man told him to go to a wedding that was being held that weekend at a Sikh temple in Kampung Pandan, and the ceremony inspired one of Lat’s most famous cartoon series to date, The Sikh Wedding.
“The series went on for many days in the Straits Times and the response was very good. The editors got calls from people telling them this was very good and they wanted more.”
Lat added that the reason Malaysians are interesting is because we all come from different racial backgrounds and clans.
He continued to capture this diversity in his books, The Kampung Boy (1979) and its sequel Town Boy (1981), which showed how the characters were interested in each other because of their differences.
“When you are young, that is the time to mingle. The more we understand each other, they more we are interested in each other.”
At the launch, Lat said he was happy to see three of his drawings given so much prominence. They were originally drawn on A3 size paper using Faber-Castell’s Grip X pen, which was launched in 2010.
According to Faber-Castell managing director Andrew Woon, the event is to highlight the success of the made-in-Malaysia ballpoint pen in conjunction with the Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day celebrations.
This is where Lat’s cartoons featuring the three main festivals in Malaysia, drawn with the Grip X, come in. They will be featured on Faber-Castell Malaysia’s social media platforms.
A video of Lat drawing his Hari Raya cartoon was released on Faber-Castell Malaysia’s website in June in conjunction with the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration, while the video for the Deepavali drawing, and the Chinese New Year drawing will be
released in October and January 2020 respectively in line with these two festivals.
At the event, Lat also drew a cartoon featuring a special person in his life, Mrs Hew (who was based on his actual school teacher Lee Siew San), with him as his popular alter ego, the ‘Kampung Boy’.
He recalled how Mrs Hew once told him that she was proud of him, but added that he had stopped drawing her after she passed away in 2017, out of respect for her family.
He still continues to draw his cartoons in his spare time. Currently, he is working on a graphic novel.
When asked if he thinks people laughed at themselves more in the past, Lat simply replied: “I am sorry, but I think we lost it. I am not good at telling jokes but I can draw. We were able to laugh at ourselves more.”